Saturday, June 8, 2013

Former Yankton Inmate Fights Against Drone Use

From today's Yankton Press and Dakotan, attached photo by Beth Preheim of me and Betsy walking away from the prison is with it.

love to all, Brian

Former Yankton Inmate Fights Against Drone Use

By Nathan Johnson
Posted: Friday, June 7, 2013 10:30 pm

During a six-month sentence at the Yankton Federal Prison Camp, Brian Terrell watched as America’s secretive drone war became more visible to the public.

In fact, on May 23 — the day prior to Terrell’s release — President Barack Obama spoke frankly about the nation’s use of drones and the need to use their lethal power sparingly.

Terrell was sentenced last October in a district courtroom in Jefferson City, Mo., to six months in federal prison after being convicted of trespassing at the Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo., earlier in the year. He and two others were arrested during the nonviolent action during which they sought to speak with military officials about drone strikes.

Terrell, who resides in Maloy, Iowa, is a Catholic Worker and co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Speaking with the Press & Dakotan via telephone, Terrell said he doesn’t believe the president really wanted to deliver that speech.

“It was a response to pressure from people in the United States and around the world,” Terrell stated. “I think what President Obama wanted to do was keep discussion of the drones on how it’s this great new technology, our soldiers are kept out of harm’s way and the machines are very precise. As long as you keep the conversation there, it is going to be very popular. But because of actions such as the one that put me in Yankton — and actions across the world — these objections are being made and questions are being asked. I really feel that this activism has had a positive result.”

Six months in Yankton’s prison was a test of patience, Terrell said. In a dispatch written during the final weeks of his sentence, he described “frequent shakedowns, random frisks ... and strip searches, separation from family and friends, severely limited visits, intercepted mail and interrupted phone calls, incessant noise and overcrowding, petty rules arbitrarily enforced.”

However, Terrell said he never felt in danger, and he even managed to lose 40 pounds while at the institution through diet and exercise.

“I was in a place where I could get fresh air and sunshine. The judge could have put me in a jail where that wouldn’t be the case,” he stated. “I could have some discretion as to who I spent time with. I found good company and conversation and made friends. I’m grateful my time was spent there.

“It was a time of deep prayer and thought,” he added.

After taking some time to adjust to life outside prison, Terrell is ready to resume his activism against drones.

He will join fellow Voices for Creative Nonviolence members for a walk through Iowa to protest drone warfare. The group will walk approximately 190 miles from the Rock Island Arsenal (where drone and bomb parts are made and stored) to the Iowa Air National Guard Facility at Des Moines Airport, the planned site of a new drone command center.

The U.S. Air Force and the CIA both have drone programs. Drones have been utilized in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

According to the New American Foundation, the CIA drone campaign began in Yemen in 2002 and in Pakistan in 2004.

The civilian and “unknown” casualty rate from drone strikes in those two countries has fallen steadily over the life of the program, the foundation reports. The casualty rate in Pakistan for civilians and “unknowns” — those who are not identified in news reports definitively as either militants or civilians — was around 40 percent under President George W. Bush. The number has come down to approximately 16 percent under President Obama.

It is estimated that between 258-307 civilians have been killed by drone attacks in Pakistan. Figures were not available for Yemen.

“We have drones over Pakistan 24/7, and they don’t want them,” Terrell said. “They are a sovereign nation. It will come back at us. It’s a very dangerous game. What I see cracking is the perception that has existed until recently that this is just a safe, clean and new way to make war.”

He cited the case of Brandon Bryant, a former Air Force drone operator who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as an example of how the drone war’s impact hits home. Bryant told NBC News this week that he is haunted by the fact that he participated in missions that killed more than 1,600 people.

“The idea that our soldiers can work a shift in an air-conditioned room in front of their computer with bathroom breaks and meals at home with their families sounds very good,” Terrell said. “But it’s all very false.”

Terrell said he doesn’t feel like his time in prison was a waste and will continue taking part in nonviolent direct action.

“We’re not trying to necessarily win or vanquish someone. We’re trying to win hearts,” he said. “I do think that my own sacrifice, which is very small, might have an effect on some people. But I think most of those are the people ready to be affected. People can still think I’m a crackpot. That’s OK. I’ve accepted that. But I want the killing from these drones to stop — all war to stop — and economic justice to be served. I believe what I’ve done has had beneficial effects, and I feel good about it.”

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